Cosatu takes on Mbeki over SABC

The union federation’s central executive committee, which meets for three days starting on Monday, will discuss the matter.

“We will be soliciting the (committee) to support the legal challenge,” a committee member said on Friday. Asked whether it was a foregone conclusion that Mbeki would be taken to court, the member said: “Exactly.”

There have been behind-the scenes efforts to avert the legal challenge, which would be embarrassing for Mbeki. The president appointed the new board despite protests from the tripartite alliance that the nomination process was flawed. The board is seen to consist of Mbeki supporters.

If the legal challenge does go ahead, it is set to widen the rift between Mbeki and those who elected African National Congress (ANC) president Jacob Zuma at the party’s conference in Polokwane in December.

Cosatu, which was crucial to Zuma’s ascent to power, believes that the board represents only business interests.

Cosatu spokesman Patrick Craven said earlier this month that the board did not have a labour representative, as required by the Broadcasting Act. He also complained that the SABC was giving poor coverage to labour issues, with between 30 minutes and an hour a day dedicated to business news, while labour was usually only covered if there was a strike.

A member of the previous board, Khanyisile Mkhonza, was named chairwoman of the new board, succeeding Eddie Funde who withdrew his nomination, citing a heavy workload. Mkhonza’s deputy will be controversial lawyer Christine Qunta, a fierce Mbeki supporter who held the same post on the old board.

Also appointed to the new board are Independent Electoral Commission CE Pansy Tlakula, businesswoman Gloria Serobe, former presidential spokesman Bheki Khumalo and businessman Peter Vundla.

A senior Cosatu official said earlier this month: “We cannot have this situation for another four to five years, even if it means that we take legal action.”

Cosatu’s decision comes amid looming pressure for Mbeki’s appointments not to be swept under the carpet.

The ANC has said it wants the matter to be resolved by its next national executive committee meeting, which is scheduled to be held next month.

Senior government officials who are opposed to the legal challenge have instead suggested that certain members of the board be asked to resign.

Interestingly, Khumalo, who was reportedly “purged” from oil titan Sasol earlier this month to appease the new ANC leadership, defended his position on the board after Sasol reportedly expressed concern about his appointment.

Last year, ANC backbenchers broke their silence and complained that they were railroaded “from above” to endorse candidates for the new board with close ties to Mbeki.

Parliament’s portfolio committee on communications last year interviewed people nominated to serve on the board and short-listed 14 people.

However, the ANC’s parliamentary study group on communications sent the list to the party’s national executive committee, which added three of its preferred candidates.

MPs complained that they were then “pressured” by Luthuli House to include Qunta and Serobe, who was nominated by Louis du Plooy, chief director in the office of the minister in the Presidency.

Mbeki announced the new board members after the ANC’s Polokwane conference, his last decision in December before going on leave.

Civil society groups, including Cosatu, have since sent a petition to Mbeki asking him not to approve the board.

ANC deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe said it was unlikely that the parliamentary recommendation would be rescinded, because Mbeki would have to find a reason in law.

Cosatu’s court challenge is likely to question what it believes was “undue interference” from the presidency to ensure that a particular list of people was appointed to the board, and whether this undermined the work of Parliament.

The central executive committee, which is meeting for the first time since Polokwane, will consider a number of other matters. These include the electricity crisis, high interest rates, the Zimbabwean elections, food prices and an analysis of the ANC conference.

 

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Cosatu takes on Mbeki over SABC